The Straits Times says

Rail resilience must extend to all areas

The recurrence of serious rail service breakdowns should never become "normalised" - for example, by citing technical issues that take time to be fully addressed. Rail operators should instead take urgent action to ensure commuters are kept moving one way or another when systems or those who run it trip up. Monday's four-line rail breakdown and Tuesday's disruption of services recalled the astonishing paralysis of services that occurred last July which had roused public sentiments. Even so, some commuters had thought of that breakdown as a one-off failure. But, alas, that did not prove to be the case.

By now, most people would be aware that the existing rail system is not as robust as one would expect, for both technical and organisational reasons. Against the ever-present risk of failure, one might even consider it an achievement that the North-South Line survived 100 days without a major disruption. That is generally how deviation from high standards tends to be normalised. Expecting worse, those who are served might feel grateful for any service obtained that is free from incidents. However, it is proper to expect better from rail operators. If they are straining to keep things going now, how will they manage when the rail system becomes more complex?

Power-related faults, apparent in Monday's breakdown, have risen since trains were added to meet rising demand. Ironically, a panel of electrical experts submitted its recommendations for a thorough reform of the MRT power system just days before Monday's mega failure. The suggestions include inspecting assets more frequently, replacing components more frequently and adopting new monitoring technologies. On specific issues, the panel said that the third rail system should be inspected every six months until it is replaced. Also, components which are critical to operations should be replaced within five years of reaching the end of their lifespan.

In addressing these needs, rail operators would do well to keep in mind the three-pronged approach suggested by the panel to enhance the reliability of the power supply system. The first is the ability to anticipate, prevent or mitigate potential problems. The second is the capacity to absorb disruptions without sacrificing system performance. And the third is the ability to restore full system performance before this results in a highimpact event.

Beyond power issues, rail operators must ensure their other systems are also resilient. The overall objective must be to get commuters to their destinations as smoothly as possible when disruptions occur. That includes paying greater attention to alternative transport for affected commuters. People should not be left in the lurch because there is inadequate provision for different contingencies and weak communication.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2016, with the headline 'Rail resilience must extend to all areas'. Subscribe